Patch blogs are opinion pieces by local authors.
I’m going to address the issue of gays in the Boy Scouts. I realize this is a sensitive topic, in part because the subject of homosexuality brings up all sorts of viewpoints and emotions.
I don’t come to this subject as an outsider looking in, because I was a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, and Explorer Scout in my youth and my father was a scoutmaster. I attained the rank of Eagle Scout and worked on the staff of a Boy Scout camp one summer. I had the good fortune of attending a Boy Scout jamboree in Valley Forge one hot summer. I loved wearing the uniform, earning merit badges and wearing other patches, learning how to make fires with flint and steel, and learning how to march in a military fashion.
During the time I was in the Scouts I never heard that the scout organization had a policy of not allowing gay scouts or scout leaders. Fact is, for many of those years, I didn’t even know what “homosexual” or “gay” was.
But in recent years, the Scouts have been under fire for their stated policy of excluding gay Scout leaders and Boy Scouts. This year, a local-area Eagle Scout who had worked at a Scout camp for eight years, Timothy Griffin, was told he couldn’t work there any longer after he acknowledged his gay sexual orientation. Forget that the organization was pleased with his work and demeanor year after year.
I went about looking for Scout oaths that might address the subject of homosexuality. In the last line of the Scout oath, scouts promise “To keep … physically strong, mentally wake and morally straight.” Are gays, because of their inborn sexual orientation, immoral?
Using the “physically strong” admonition, might not a boy with debilitating cerebral palsy be excluded from the Scouts as well?
Legally, the Boy Scouts as a private organization can exclude anyone they want, but some Scout troops have rightly been prevented from using city facilities because of their exclusion of gays (technically, by denying equal opportunity).
How did this Boy Scout policy get started? Other organizations for youth, such as the Girl Scouts, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the 4-H, and sports organizations (for soccer and so on), have no policies excluding gays and they’re doing just fine. Even the military has changed its rules to allow declared gays in its ranks. Some professional football players and police officers are gays.
One would think that the gay ban was primarily to prevent gay pedophiles from obtaining leadership positions and using that closeness to molest Boy Scouts. But in practice, it would seem that the ban often constituted window dressing, because when the national Boy Scout organization was recently ordered to make public its molestation records, it was revealed that the cases of wayward Scout leaders over past decades were often kept out of the press and the leaders were sometimes shielded from prosecution. It would seem that the Scout organization was more concerned with protecting its good name (just as the Catholic hierarchy shielded wayward priests and Penn State shielded Jerry Sandusky) – and protecting some leaders’ reputations – than being concerned with the mental damage inflicted upon young Scouts.
Since laws were passed several decades ago requiring adults to report molestations to the police, the Boy Scouts organization has become more forthcoming. However, and this is hard to believe, the Boy Scouts didn’t require background checks on Scout leaders and volunteers until 2008. Before then, there was just a national blacklist of individuals who weren’t allowed to become leaders again.
It seems to me that individuals who openly declare themselves as gay and apply for scout leadership positions are very unlikely to be pedophiles. It’s those who are outwardly heterosexual or keep their sexual orientation hidden that more often end up as molesters.
Scouts themselves will come on to other Scouts. I know. It happened to me. During our trip to the boy scout jamboree an older Scout – a big, overweight guy – made unwanted sexual advances toward me while we stayed overnight in a hotel. I was pretty clueless about all forms of sex at that point and felt powerless to evade him. On the other hand, I don’t think he thought of himself as unusual. I think he thought he was experimenting in this newfound arena of sex. As for me, I was so embarrassed I didn’t report him to the scout leaders, and I never told my parents. This was during the late 1950s.
As it is, at least in my experience, when Scouts are in summer camp or on other trips, there can be a lot of hanky-panky going on. Boys at that age are just beginning to explore their sexuality and learn where they are on the spectrum of heterosexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality. As with the older Scout who came on to me, most younger boys aren’t about to announce that, “Scoutmaster, I am definitely gay. I’m only attracted to other boys.”
As a person who thinks the Scouts are a valuable organization, teaching boys valuable skills and promoting friendships, I want to see the program continue. But if the Scouts persist in denying membership to gays, they will paint themselves into a corner and make themselves obsolete in a new world of diversity and acceptance. I’m sure there are Scouting leaders all over the U.S. who are against the anti-gay policy privately, but value the overall Scouting experience.
I can picture the possibility of a Scouting splinter group breaking off to form its own new Scouting organization – one that wouldn’t categorize gay adults and youth as dangerous and as rejects.